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College Sports

Official: Football is Title IX’s biggest problem

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A wrestling coach sees Title IX being used to discriminate against men. The man who wrote the original legislation thinks it’s working well, with the numbers of both men and women playing college sports up greatly during the past four decades.

The head of an athletic department in the mighty Southeastern Conference says the biggest problem with meeting gender equity is what he calls the elephant in the room: College football.

“We have 330 varsity athletes, 110 are on the football team,” Vanderbilt vice chancellor David Williams said Tuesday night. “So if you want me to get to 50-50, that means I have slots for 55 men other than football.”

Williams spoke during a panel discussion of whether the law requiring gender equity in college sports needs to be reformed or is simply being misinterpreted. Former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh defended the law he helped pass in 1972 and agreed with Williams about football the most powerful of all college sports.

Middle Tennessee State wrestling coach Bryan Knepper argued against what he called unintended consequences of men losing teams at schools trying to meet Title IX.

He cited men forced to play club level sports because of cuts in wrestling, track and field, swimming and other sports. He noted Division I only has 17 men’s gymnastics programs left, and he gave examples of programs such as a wrestling program at Carson-Newman College in Tennessee that lost its team despite a $1 million endowment offer.

“Now a law intended to be one to not discriminate based on sex is actually allowing it. You can cut men’s programs and basically discriminate against them in order to make it equal. That’s not true equality,” Knepper said.

Bayh denied that, noting how three times as many wrestling programs were cut between 1984 and 1988 when Title IX was not being enforced by the Reagan administration.

“There are more men participating now today than there were at the beginning of Title IX,” said Bayh, who represented Indiana in the Senate between 1963-81. “I don’t know how you can say it’s discrimination.”

Williams was the only panelist able to discuss Title IX from the position of having made decisions based on trying to meet the federal law.

He worked at Ohio State and saw how that Big Ten school met gender equality by starting a women’s crew program. To meet one requirement of Title IX, he had to cut men’s soccer a few years ago and added women’s swimming and bowling. That women’s bowling team in 2007 won Vanderbilt the only national championship in school history.

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